Chi Onwurah MP for Newcastle Central is backing the call for the government to rethink plans to close the West End Jobcentre in Newcastle.
On Wednesday the government confirmed closure plans for the West Road Jobcentre first announced in January and the Labour Shadow Minister for Employment, immediately lodged an Urgent Question in the House of Commons to challenge the plans which was debated yesterday
“Jobcentres should have a vital role in supporting people looking for work. If implemented, the closure of West Road will be highly damaging to some of the poorest and most vulnerable in the West End of Newcastle.
“It will mean that claimants will have to travel further to attend appointments in the Newcastle City Centre and they will be at greater risk of being sanctioned for being late or missing an appointment.
“The need to travel greater distances to the nearest Jobcentre will be especially difficult for people who are disabled or have children, yet the government refuses to publish the equalities analysis it has made of the impact of the plans.
“It simply does not make sense to close Jobcentres on this scale with the risk of the loss of experienced staff at a time when DWP is accelerating the roll out of the full digital service of Universal Credit which has already lead to many difficulties for claimants.
“The roll out of the UC full digital service is already resulting in claimants spending long periods on the phone to the DWP or having to visit Jobcentres in order to resolve problems.
Ms Onwurah is very concerned that the government also plans to require people in work for the first time to attend appointments to discuss how they can increase their hours if they are claiming Universal Credit. This will place even more burden on Jobcentres and mean more people in the West End of Newcastle have to travel into Newcastle City Centre Jobcentre.
She dismisses the government’s stock answer that the overwhelming majority of people claiming social security now do so online, as that ignores the needs of many people who don’t feel confident using IT or who don’t have easy access to the internet or IT help.
Chi believes the closure is ill-thought out and should be put on hold while there is proper scrutiny of the government’s equality analysis.
“ If the government’s response to criticism of cuts to social security is that work is the best route out of poverty. Why, then, is it cutting employment support through Jobcentres which help people to find work?”